Women working in the turfcare industry are a rarity, so much so that one post on the Pitchcare message board posed the question "why aren't there more women in the industry?" The theories were many and varied, so we thought we'd ask one of the 'rarities', Jo Rawlinson, Estate Keeper at Charterhouse School, to give us her take on the industry
Jo Rawlinson is thirty-nine years old and lives in Witley, a small village just outside Godalming, the home of Charterhouse School. In her spare time she plays in a Ladies football team (Milford and Witley) and, in the summer months, plays in a stoolball team for Wonersh (another local village).
She is a member of the Godalming Community Gospel Choir which, she says "is great fun" and also attends a Street Dance class once a week, and confesses to being "quite a busy lady".
She has worked at Charterhouse School for the past six years and her current role is Estate Keeper.
In this question and answer session, we discuss how she came to the industry, how she is viewed by her colleagues and how the turfcare sector could do more to attract women into the industry.
What attracted you to become a Groundswoman?
As a keen sportswoman (ladies football team and stoolball team), I had always admired, and was intrigued, as to how people were able to present pitches so well; the skill and patience to get grass to look perfect, how the light and dark stripes on a pitch were achieved. I was also keen to work outside, and the prospect of working at Charterhouse School was very appealing.
Did you intend to make it a career or was it just a 'stop gap' until something else came along?
When I was growing up, I never even thought of having a career in grounds. When I left school, I wanted to go into catering, so went off to catering college and, after working in a local hotel for eight years, I went travelling to Australia for a few years, which was amazing!
On returning from my travels, I started working in an office looking after the I.T. system. Three years in an office and I remember sitting at my desk one day looking out the window and thinking, I really don't want to do this job anymore, I really want to work outside.
So, I went back to college, which was daunting at first, as I had just turned thirty and the prospect of going back into learning was a little scary, but it turned out to be one of the best changes I have evermade.
I went to Merrist Wood College near Guildford and studied my Certificate in Horticulture. This was quite a broad course and covered things like plant management, machinery and garden design, to name a few. The college was brilliant and I found the practical learning was so much more beneficial to me than being sat in a classroom, like back at school.
I left college with my certificate and, about eight months later, got an interview at my local council (Guildford Borough) where I became a full time member of staff in the Parks and Countryside section.
This was my first interaction into a grounds position and I was given my own mowing route to manage. The council were very good at organising training and, pretty soon, I had many tickets, but there was still something amiss. With the borough covering a very large area, we would need to get the grass cutting duties completed as soon as we could, no time for striping up or straightening lines etc. and I strived for more.
A friend of mine said she had heard, through the grapevine, that a position had come up at Charterhouse School on the grounds team and I leapt at the chance. I immediately got in contact with the school and arranged an interview and, well, the rest is history. I love it.
Taking pride in making the grounds look immaculate, learning new skills, renovation work, knowledge of what goes on under the soil, having a boss [Dave Roberts] who knows so much and is so well known in the industry is a big boost too, as he is always about to ask him questions, and he allows us the chance to visit other sites to further our knowledge.
What industry qualifications have you achieved?
Apart from my Certificate of Horticulture, I don't have any other qualifications in the Industry, yet. Due to the nature of the job, I have plenty of 'on the job' experience in a wide range of machines and we are able to arrange training, if it's needed.
I am hoping to do a course that will further my understanding of fine turf, what happens under the ground etc. We just need to find the right course for the purpose.
Do you specialise in any one area, e.g. cricket, rugby etc?
Through working at Charterhouse, where there is a wide range of sporting pitches, I have been able to work on all forms of different areas, from the first initial pitch markings of football, rugby and hockey through to preparing a strip for cricket. I have also carried out work on our artificial pitches, so the job is pretty varied.
Another part of my job is looking after the cross country course and, along with the team, we have been able to cut out new paths to make the course pretty challenging for the boys when they have various runs through the year; the big one being Pontifex where pretty much the whole school is involved.
The Sports Centre also has a few cross country events throughout the year, one of which is a Trail Run where we have a 5, 10 and 15km route. They are also doing a run for Sport Relief and we also have the yearly Godalming Run which goes through part of the town and school, so I have to liaise and be on hand for this.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I really enjoy working on our first team football pitch 'Big Ground', making good after a game and renovations and also helping choose which new pattern to mow.
Another job I enjoy is the mowing of the school lawns. These are quite high profile lawns within the school and I find it a privilege to be given the task of mowing them.
Is there anything you do not look forward to doing?
Not so much 'don't look forward to doing', but I do find leaf collecting in the autumn a little tedious, even with all the leaf blowers we have and a Trilo to collect them; it just seems to go on forever.
Are you respected by your male colleagues/do you feel part of the team?
I think I have been very lucky to be able to work with the grounds team at Charterhouse.
From the word go, they made me feel very welcome, which was a big thing for me as it was very daunting going into a position knowing you are the only female. I feel I have gained their respect as I have become more proficient in my role and very much feel part of the team.
Are your views sought when it comes to problem solving, work rotas, staffing etc?
We all have a say in any problem solving, sharing the work etc. At the start of every day, we sit down and discuss what work needs to be done and who is doing what. I definitely have an input in this, as do others.
Are the mess facilities suitable or do you have to share with your colleagues - is this a problem?
We all share the main mess facilities and have our set chairs for tea breaks, which works out great. With regards to changing facilities, I am lucky enough to be able to have a separate room which is also the drying room, so occasionally can get a bit whiffy if the weather has been poor and, from time to time, I have to remind the guys to put their clothing away when it is dry, but I think they get used to it. I have the means of locking the door too if I am changing after work, just in case someone forgets to knock.
Is there banter directed at you or do you give as good as you get?
There is an ongoing joke since I started that any derogatory comment towards me go in a book I keep. If I actually did this, I would have a whole series of books by now!
There is banter within the team daily, which occasionally is directed at me, but I am very good at giving it back, trust me. I think you definitely need to have a thick skin in this job and definitely should not take things to heart as we all love a good wind up. But, remember, a woman never forgets!
Are there any tasks that you might not be offered 'because you are a woman'?
I don't feel, as a woman, that jobs are not offered to me. I do, however, know my limits as does everyone.
Being of slight build and 5ft (at a push) when I first started at Charterhouse, the guys always insisted on helping me with everything which, for me, was quite frustrating.
Being an independent woman, I wanted to be able to do things without asking for too much help. Obviously, I know I'm not as strong as the guys, and never will be, but I knew I had to do something.
I took myself off to the gym, at the sports centre on site, and got myself a personal trainer and, a couple of months later, I could do more for myself and the guys now know that if I need help I will ask for it. I just like the chance to try for myself first.
Would you recommend your job to other women looking for a career?
I would most definitely recommend my job to other women. I think it's a great job, and you get to work at a great school with wonderful surroundings.
You get to work outside, which is a plus. It might be a bit cold in the winter, but you just put more layers on and there is always something to do to keep you warm.
The variety of jobs that you get to do means you never get bored too.
Are there any changes that you think could be made that might improve the appeal of the industry to women?
This question had me a bit stumped because, as I am in the industry and love what I do, the appeal for me is already there. So ... I decided to open this question to the rest of the team.
After the jokey comments of 'pink machines' and 'Boots vouchers' (wouldn't mind Boots vouchers!), we finally came up with a couple of possibilities.
The guys asked me what I say when people ask what my job is. I always reply "I'm part of the grounds team at Charterhouse School" whereas they would probably just say 'a groundsman'. Perhaps the term 'groundsman' could potentially put females off or make them think it's just a job for men?
It's sometimes offputting when a rep comes into the mess room when we are on tea break and greets us by saying "all right chaps?", so I guess everyone just assumes that it's just men they are going to be dealing with. It is something I have got used to though and it doesn't worry me.
Whilst having this discussion, I started thinking of when I was at school and the careers advice given back then. It was very much a split between male and female jobs, I'm pretty sure it's changed and, now, with most schools encouraging pupils to exercise more, could potentially lead to more interest in the groundcare industry. Maybe setting up something with local schools where people in the industry go and speak to the pupils, saying it's not only a man's job could perhaps get more female interest at a younger age?
Getting more coverage of women's sport on the television could potentially raise the appeal? I'm not sure if I'm only saying this though because it's something I feel strongly about, what with the England Women's cricket team retaining the Ashes and the England Ladies football team getting to the final of the Cyprus Cup a few weeks ago. But, who knows?
I know I, for one, would love to work at the Football Association's St George's Park facilty where the England football teams train, knowing that the pitches that I had helped prepare could potentially play a part in their success.